Getting the best identity theft protection - for you and your family - is essential in 2021. With more and more of our lives going online, and an ever-increasing risk of your data being stolen or misused by cybercriminals, you need adequate protection against these threats. While it's impossible to guarantee protection against fraud and identity theft, there are a number of actions you can take to minimize your risk, and there are plenty of steps you can take to resolve any problems that arise when you are the victim of these types of crime.
What's more, the best identity theft protection services will cover your whole family, if you opt for the correct package, so you don't need to worry about the safety of your partner or any children - they could all be covered.
For complete identity protection that goes beyond the usual bank accounts and credit cards at a reasonable price, IdentityForce is the best option. Special Offer: 3 months free on annual plans. Call 888-266-3930
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Many of these services will offer things like bank account monitoring as standard, and you can get some that will give you a regular credit check with one or more of the agencies responsible for credit status in the US. The level of cover you choose will depend on what you actually need - so if you shop online a lot, and use online banking instead of brick and mortar banks, you should be able to find cover suited to this. If you don't perform a lot of transactions online, and rarely share your data, there are more basic standard packages for you, which can cut down the monthly costs.
Again, though, none of these services are a guarantee that you will never be the victim of identity theft or fraud. There is no such thing as being 100% safe from these things. If you want to take further protections about staying safe online, make sure you're using the best antivirus software on your computer (and other devices) and that you have a VPN service for safer, anonymous browsing.
1. IdentityForce UltraSecure + Credit: Best Identity Theft Protection overall
For an all-encompassing identity theft protection service, we recommend IdentityForce’s UltraSecure + Credit plan. Not only will you find that basic information like your name, email address, and Social Security Number are monitored, but you’ll also be able to monitor your child’s information. While the dashboard can take a while to get used to, it’s full of helpful resources and tools to help you better manage not just your identity, but your finances as well. As far as an identity theft protection service goes, IdentityForce is the best in its alerts. Not only will you get alerts on several platforms, including email and text, but the alerts come almost the instant a threat is detected. We found that alerts from IdentityForce come the most often, allowing you to stay in-the-know. For the price you’re paying every month and the number of data points you can monitor, it’s well-worth the price.
We would also recommend considering the Family packages too. They're good value for money, and protect you, your partner, and any children you have (there is no limit here, so it's great for large families). The family package includes Childwatch, which is an award-winning extra that you normally pay for as an add-on.
2. LifeLock: Best multi-layered protection
With LifeLock at your fingertips, you won’t just get alerted to breaches and potential threats, but you can actively protect your devices and your internet connection. LifeLock is your best bet if you’re looking for multiple levels of security - so not just alerts and restoration, but also prevention. Plus, you’ll get the built-in ability to resolve issues, or otherwise be redirected to the right page to dispute items that you suspect are fraudulent: freeze credit, bank accounts, and more. If your information or identity has been stolen, work with LifeLock’s dedicated professionals to restore your name, credit, and more. You may not find as many tools and resources as you would with IdentityForce, but the relatively high price of opting for LifeLock is worth the cost.
- Read our LifeLock review
3. Identity Guard: Best technology
Identity Guard boasts top of the line AI technology that will scan billions of data points across the internet in search for your information, monitoring pieces of your information like your credit and bank account number. Log into your account and find a pleasantly color-coded and well-organized dashboard that will clearly highlight items that require your attention. You’ll find alerts that are clearly labeled, so you’ll know exactly when changes to your accounts or information occurred, and on which websites. Identity Guard makes managing your ID a rather pleasant experience. Identity Guard is a wonderfully complete and comprehensive service - as long as you opt for a higher tier plan.
- Read our Identity Guard review
4. ID Watchdog: Great value protection
ID Watchdog may not have the best technology or the best-looking dashboard, but if you’re looking for a good value plan, it’s the choice for you. It’s less complete than other services on this list, but with such a low cost, you can opt for it and not feel like you’re risking a lot of cash. If you can ignore an outdated-looking site and the lack of tools and resources, ID Watchdog is worthy of your consideration. Plus, if you’re a medical professional, ID Watchdog should be your top choice, as it can monitor your Provider ID.
5. Identity Protect: Best for public records
Identity Protect is Intelius’s foray into identity theft protection, but has some mixed results. It covers most of the basics, but when compared to other services on this list, it misses the mark in some key areas. But it does have a feature that no other services have: public records. Public records can shed light on how your information is being used by showing how your data is associated with financial records, property records, and much more. Intelius specializes in people search and background check information, and a lot of what you will find with an Intelius people search account will be shown as part of your Identity Protect subscription. It’s not the more traditional approach to identity theft protection, but it’s worth looking into.
Identity theft and you
Identity theft is an increasingly bigger problem and the very best way to ensure you stay safe is to use an identity fraud protection service. These ID theft stopping tools not only help you spot and detect scams, but also offer live monitoring of things like searches about your financial situation, changes of address, and accounts being opened in your name, but also offer access to top-level credit reports.
These advanced digital security tools also often come with a suite of anti-phishing and anti-keylogger programs, which help keep malware off your system and, as a result, stop hackers from extracting data from you. Many also offer media identity monitoring suites too, which scan Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google+ for imposter accounts or malicious, prying links.
Importantly, if anything about you or your accounts is detected, then the best identity theft protection services then introduce a certified identity theft management specialist to handle your case until it is resolved.
Of course, not all this advanced technology comes free and not every identity theft protection service is created equal, with free services offering the most basic features and protection, and then fully paid for services offering secret service-levels of digital security and monitoring. Here, in our best identity theft protection guide, we recommend six paid-for services that we consider the absolute best currently in business.
Why trust us?
We’ve been reviewing identity theft protection for ten years. In that time we’ve watched the industry and monitored trends to ensure that our reviews reflect the most current services. As the technology identity thieves use becomes more sophisticated, the tools used by these services are advancing in stride.
Services such as Identity Guard and LifeLock use algorithms and machine learning to search through the dark corners of the internet to see if your information is being sold or used by ID thieves. In addition to monitoring your Social Security Number, address and name, these sites also look at medical records, which are increasingly a source of identity fraud.
How we tested
We spent 60 hours researching identity theft protection services before narrowing our list down to the best companies. We couldn’t test them in a real-world scenario since that would involve actually getting our reviewer’s identity stolen. Instead, we found comparable plans and contrasted the features each one offered.
One of the most important things to look for is how quickly the service will notify you about potential fraud and the methods used to notify you. The best identity protection services will call or text you. Many services also have mobile apps that notify you about potential fraud. These will let you indicate whether a transaction or loan application was made by you and, if not, begin the process of rectifying the fraud. You’ll also want a service that notifies credit bureaus about fraud, this will save you from contacting the bureaus yourself.
As an added bonus, identity theft protection services often include credit monitoring. Because your credit score can be affected by fraud, you’ll be given access to three-bureau credit reports more frequently than the once a year mandated by federal law. Many services also let you monitor one of your scores monthly.
In the event that your identity is compromised, these services offer recovery services. Look for services that include restoration services, which means you’ll be connected with a specialist who will fill out paperwork and make the necessary calls to help recover your identity.
Are identity protection services safe?
Because data breaches are becoming more common, it’s reasonable to ask if these identity protection services are themselves safe to sign up for. Look for an identity theft protection service that uses two-factor authentication (2FA). With 2FA, anyone who gets your email and password through another data breach or a phishing attack is blocked from logging in. Generally, someone gaining access to your ID protection account won’t result in your personal information being compromised, depending on how the service manages that data. But it can result in notifications being deactivated. According to Tom’s Guide, many prominent identity protection services don’t offer 2FA, but many are working to add it.
What to do if your identity is stolen
The sad fact is that your identity has a home in many places you can't personally safeguard. Things beyond your control, such as the 2017 Equifax hack, leave your information vulnerable. If your identity is stolen, don’t panic. There are several things you can do that will minimize damage.
It’s likely the entity that was compromised will offer you free credit monitoring. While useful, the services offered are usually bare-bones and can take as long as 60 days to notify you of any fraud. The identity theft protection services we reviewed are stronger, quicker and more comprehensive. So if you’re already signed up for an ID theft protection service, the free service offered won’t be of much use to you.
One thing you can do yourself is put a freeze on your credit file. We recommend doing this as soon as you learn of a security breach. A freeze prevents creditors from pulling your credit without your explicit permission.
Should I freeze my credit report?
If you’re worried your personal information is compromised, freezing your credit report is an easy and free security measure worth considering. Also referred to as a security freeze, you can contact Equifax, Experian and Transunion to freeze your credit report. Doing this restricts access to your credit report, which creditors use to approve loans, credit cards and lines of credit and determines interest rates and repayment terms. So, if the identity thief tries to apply for a loan from a bank, it’s rejected early in the application process because the bank cannot access your report, which protects your credit from unwanted debt placed in your name.
The FTC notes that a credit freeze doesn’t prevent identity thieves from making charges to your existing credit cards. So if your credit card or bank account is already compromised, you still need to contact your bank to freeze those accounts until new cards are issued. That said, you can still access and monitor your credit report when it’s frozen, and you can easily have the freeze lifted if you’re applying for a loan, an apartment or job, as the credit agencies are required to lift it within an hour after a request.
Freezing and unfreezing your credit report is free and there are no limits to how often you can do it. It doesn’t stop existing creditors or debt collectors from accessing your credit report, nor does it stop any government agencies who request access in response to court orders, but it’s one of the best options you have for minimizing your risk of identity theft.
Does where you live make you more vulnerable to identity theft?
Data breaches seem to be an everyday occurrence these days. The Identity Theft Resource Center estimates that since 2005 there have been more than 9,000 breaches, exposing more than 1 billion records. WalletHub recently published a report that looks at which state’s residents are most vulnerable to identity theft.
Nevada, Florida and New Jersey occupy the top three spots. However, Wyoming, Arizona, and California saw the highest average dollar amount lost due to fraud. One interesting thing the report looked at is each state’s policies that aim to protect its residents from identity fraud. Delaware ranks last in this regard. Some common protections states use to protect residents include security freezes for minors and identity theft passports that help victims of ID theft recover their identities.
Tips to help prevent identity theft
When news of a data breach breaks, you probably check to see if it's affected you, and you may sign up for identity theft protection. Too often, however, the damage has already been done. Identity theft protection services notify you if someone uses your information to commit fraud, but they don’t prevent your data from being stolen.
Luckily, there are many steps you can take to secure your personal information:
- Don’t give your information to unsolicited requests. According to RoboKiller.com, nearly 4.5 billion robocalls were made in June alone. Phone scams focus on using credible threats, like tech problems or the IRS, to get you to give up personal information. The FTC has a guide on how to deal with phone scams.
- Avoid carrying your Social Security card and try not to share your number widely. Some services may require it, especially if they need to check your credit. If it’s optional to include your SSN, don’t share it.
- Empty your mailbox every day and shred sensitive documents before throwing them away. Do the same for anything that might have sensitive or personal information about your children. This may seem paranoid, but dedicated thieves can use this information to commit fraud.
- Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication where possible. According to a Javelin Strategy & Research report, 81 percent of hacks start with a stolen or hacked password. Experian has tips on how to make a strong password. If a website has an option for two-factor authentication, we recommend activating it. It adds an extra layer of security that helps ensure your accounts aren’t accessed by unauthorized people.
How to stay safe online
It seems like it's becoming harder and harder to keep your information safe. Data breaches, hacks and malware attacks are commonplace, but the internet is an essential part of modern life. Below are some tips and best practices for staying safe online. Keep in mind, these tips are geared toward your own personal habits and won’t protect you from institutional data hacks like the Equifax or Marriott breaches.
- Strong passwords: Create complex, unique passwords for all your critical accounts. Especially with so many institutions being compromised, using the same password across the web gives hackers the opportunity to access other accounts. Use a password manager to help you create and store unique passwords for all your accounts, and set up multi-factor authentication where possible,
- Don’t forget your phone: Someone may access your personal information on your lost or stolen smartphone. You should use a secure lock screen to prevent someone from accessing your phone. Also, keep your phone’s software updated to protect it from hackers.
- Avoid oversharing: Keep the personal details you share online to a minimum. Hackers can use this information to impersonate you or guess passwords to gain access to your accounts.
- Only purchase from secure sites: When shopping online, make sure you only buy from sites you trust. Also, be sure they have secure checkout processes – look for a padlock by the address bar and an “https” in front of the website address.
- Keep your computer updated: Make sure your software and operating system are up to date. Hackers can exploit holes in out-of-date operating systems and other programs to enter your computer or accounts.
How to recover from identity theft
Even when you take all possible precautions, identity theft can happen. It’s a stressful experience but one you can recover from. Recovering from identity theft isn’t simple, and depending on what was stolen and how the theft occurred, there can be many steps.
The FTC has a checklist for recovering from ID theft. The first step should be calling the fraud departments of the companies where the fraud occurred and having them freeze your accounts. Then you should place fraud alerts on your credit report. To do this, contact one of the credit bureaus – it is required by law for it to contact the other two. Fraud alerts are free and make it harder for accounts to be opened in your name. Each bureau will send you a letter confirming a fraud alert has been placed on your file.
If you’ve had your wallet stolen or it's gone missing, cancel your cards and licenses and report passports and Social Security cards to the proper agencies. You have to make arrangements with each agency to replace those documents. Further, you need to change your logins, passwords, and PINs.
You should also file an Identity Theft Affidavit with the FTC. It will collect all the details of your theft and send complaints to the appropriate agencies or businesses. After doing this, you need to contact local law enforcement. Bring the affidavit and remember to get a copy of the police report.
One advantage of signing up for identity theft protection is the service provides you with recovery assistance. You work with a case manager who helps you with some of the paperwork as well as walks you through the steps for closing or changing accounts. Some services may allow you to give them the authority to act on your behalf when dealing with creditors.
How to protect your child from identity theft
Identity theft of children is becoming more prevalent. According to Experian, 1.3 million children – most of them under age 6 – have their identities stolen each year. Children are appealing targets because they have blank credit files and the fraud often goes undetected until they turn 18. And though the impact is unseen for a long time, it can lead to results like being denied for student loans.
There are several signs that your child may have been affected by ID theft. If you start getting calls or bills from collections agencies in your child’s name, that’s a sure sign that someone has been using their information. You may get turned down for government benefits because those benefits are being paid to another account in your child’s name.
To protect your child from ID theft, keep their Social Security number and other personal information locked away. Tell your children to avoid sharing personal information online. The FTC recommends checking your child’s credit report at 16; this will give you time to address any fraud before they apply for loans or credit cards after they turn 18.
If you find that someone has opened an account in your child’s name, you should contact the companies where the fraud occurred. You may also need to contact the credit bureaus and have them remove any fraudulent accounts. You’ll likely have to provide evidence of your child’s birth certificate. You can put a freeze on your child’s credit, which will prevent thieves from opening new accounts in your child’s name, though it won’t prevent existing accounts from being used.
What is tax refund ID theft?
One of the many ways ID thieves can use your information is by filing false tax returns in your name to claim refunds. In some cases, they may also use your Social Security number to get a job.
This is one of the most common types of fraud the IRS sees. The IRS estimates that in 2015 alone, $14.5 billion in fraudulent returns were attempted. An Experian study shows that tax fraud is the second most common type of ID fraud after credit card fraud, though the total amount of tax ID fraud is decreasing.
Most often, when you’re a victim of this type of fraud, you find out when you file your return. The IRS will send you a notice that it’s already received your return. If your SSN was used by someone to get a job, that employer will report that income to the IRS. When you send in your return, you’ll hear from the IRS that you didn’t report all your wages.
If you think someone fraudulently used your SSN to file a return, contact the IRS. It will assist you in fixing the problems. You also need to file a Form 14039, an Identity Theft Affidavit, which you attach to your return. In some cases, the IRS will assign you a unique PIN to use when filing your return.
If you do get called by someone claiming to represent the IRS, you should hang up and contact the IRS directly to confirm whether you owe any taxes. If you don’t owe any taxes, you should report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. You can also file a complaint with the FTC Complaint Assistant.
How long do the effects of identity theft last?
Depending on how your identity was compromised and how quickly you resolved your issues, the effects of identity theft can linger long after. The Economist estimates that it can take up to six months and hundreds of hours to resolve identity fraud. A lot depends on how quickly you find that your information was compromised. Identity theft protection services help here, notifying you of suspicious activity and helping you to resolve any fraud that may have occurred.
Depending on what information was stolen, the FTC makes a different recommendation on how to manage the immediate aftereffects. The immediate effects can include damage to your credit score and report, which can hinder you in many ways. Besides being unable to get approved for loans, having bad credit can also affect how much you pay for auto insurance and can even result in you not being considered for jobs.
In addition to financial effects, identity theft can also impact your life in other ways. ID theft is one of the few crimes that requires victims to do significant legwork to resolve the issues. And even when victims work with law enforcement and government agencies, they report dissatisfaction with how their issues are resolved, according to an annual survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center.
One of the biggest effects that are underreported is the emotional consequences of dealing with ID theft. Identity theft can affect sleep patterns, job performance, and interpersonal relationships. It can also result in victims tapping into their own savings to deal with the problem.
What are the most common types of ID theft?
Identity theft isn’t a single, simple thing – there are multiple ways thieves can access your information and cause trouble. Here are some of the most common types of identity theft to watch out for:
- Account takeovers: This is one of the fastest growing types of identity theft, accounting for 1.4 million instances. It involves someone gaining access to one of your accounts and changing the login and security setting. This type of theft has resulted in over $2 billion in losses.
- Credit card fraud: Another of the most common types of ID theft involves thieves using your existing credit card or creating another in your name. You can put a freeze on your credit to prevent new accounts from being opened in your name.
- Medical fraud: Medical fraud involves someone using your information to get medical treatment. This can result in doctors having inaccurate records, fraudulent medical bills or creditors tracking you down for bills you never received.
- Tax identity fraud: This is when someone submits tax returns in your name. You’ll discover the fraud when you file your return and the IRS notifies you that it has already received one from you.
- Child ID theft: Children are becoming a more common target for identity thieves because of their unblemished credit. This can impact your child in the future when they become old enough to apply for credit themselves. Keep an eye out for any bills that come in their name.
What is medical ID theft?
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, health data breaches are on the rise. In 2017, there were more than 250 health data breaches, and there were more than 300 in 2018. This means millions of records were potentially exposed along with the vital information they contain, including Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and addresses.
Medical information is appealing to thieves because it lets them commit all types of fraud – they can fill prescriptions, file claims in your name, open credit cards or get loans in your name. It’s also possible for thieves to blackmail patients with sensitive medical histories.
Keep your eye on any medical information you get in the mail. Read the explanation of benefits on any claim you receive and check to see if the information matches the date you were seen and the treatment you received. Signs you may be a victim of medical fraud include bills for services you didn’t receive, debt collector calls for medical debt you don’t owe, credit report entries for debt you don’t owe, notices from your insurance that you’ve reached your benefit limit or denials of insurance based on conditions you don’t have.
If you are a victim of medical ID fraud, you can request a copy of your medical records, which you’re entitled to by federal law. Review them for inaccurate information. You may need to request records from before the theft. You may also need to ask insurers and medical providers for “accounting of disclosures,” which is their record of who they’ve sent copies of your records to. Ask for corrections to your medical records, but make sure you keep copies of any documents you may have received due to the fraud.
Identity theft protection tips for the visually impaired
Everyone is at risk of having their identity stolen, but some groups are more likely to be victims. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), people with impaired vision or vision loss are easier targets for criminals. Fortunately, the ITRC teamed up with Braille Institute to develop tips for helping people with vision issues protect themselves from being targeted. In the article, Empish J. Thomas shares her experience with identity theft and the obstacles she encountered. Thomas recommends that the visually impaired have a core group of trustworthy people who can help with the following tips (which actually apply to everyone):
- Don’t take anything at surface value. Be suspicious of the source, whether it’s a phone call, a letter or an email. Never give out personal data to anyone requesting it unless you have thoroughly vetted the source.
- Shred all documents containing personal information. Shred all documents before you throw them away, including junk mail, medical documents, bills, and bank statements. People with impaired vision may need to rely on a friend to routinely help them go through all of the items that need to be shredded.
- Use security software and identity theft monitoring services. Antivirus software isn’t enough to protect you, as most identity theft occurs without viruses. You need to rely on more robust security measures to ensure you are protected from a broader range of threats.
- Monitor your credit. If your identity has been stolen, your credit report will likely provide the first clues. The sooner you take action against identity theft, the greater the chances are that you will fully recover.
- Get help immediately. Likewise, the sooner you report suspicious activity, the better your chances are of recovering from identity theft. The TRC and the Federal Trade Commission offer assistance to victims of identity theft.